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College Planning for Neurodiverse Students – Part 1

The preparation, organization, and implementation of a college plan is essentially the same for neurodiverse students as it is for neurotypical ones. There are key differences, however, which necessitate the college preparation process be started at the beginning of high school. In this two-part series, I will highlight areas critical to academic success in college.

Let me begin by sharing what I mean when I refer to neurodiverse students. Neurodiversity is an approach to learning and disability that asserts diverse neurological are the result of normal variations in the human genome. Neurodiverse is used to describe people with a variety of conditions related to cognitive abilities such as autism, dyslexia, dyscalculia, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), and obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD).

4 Steps for College Prep

Executive Function Skills

Defined as a set of mental skills that include working memory, flexible thinking, and self-control. These skills are controlled by an area of the brain called the frontal lobe. We use these skills every day to learn, work, and manage daily life. Trouble with executive function can make it hard to focus, follow directions, and handle emotions.

Students who struggle with paying attention, remembering things like turning in homework, organizing tasks, and managing time need to strengthen these skills throughout high school. Here are a few strategies to reinforce these critical skills:

1. Use tools like time organizers, computers, or watches with alarms. Here a few apps to consider:

  • ClearLock is a basic app that cuts out distractions by locking your smartphone for a time you set.

  • Google Calendar integrates with other Google applications that students may already use in school.

  • 30/30 is an app designed to help users prioritize and track the amount of time they spend on individual tasks or smaller parts of a larger undertaking.

  • Quizlet is an app and a website that allows students to create their own digital flashcards so they can learn terms and definitions.

  • InClass lets users add class times, professors, homework, and due dates to their calendar. It also allows users to attach recorded content, files, and notes to each reminder, ensuring that leaners of all different types can stay organized.

  • Glean is a note taking support app.

2. Paper planner, week-at-glance, for students to write down assignment details and due dates. Writing by hand forces you to slow down and approach your planning with more mindfulness. Research even suggests that writing things down by hand helps you retain information better. Students can set an alarm on their phone to remind them to check their planner daily.

3. Long term assignments like a research paper can be overwhelming. Students should break down the assignment into chunks and assign timeframes for completing each one. This can be done on a large white board hung in their study area so students can visualize the project’s completion timeline.

4. Ask for written and oral instructions whenever possible. This will reinforce the instructions to both visual and auditory learners.

5.Organize the workspace. Color coded binders with pockets in the front for each subject will help keep assignments organized. The pocket allows a consistent place for completed homework to be stored. Students can set an alarm on their phone to remind them to turn in the homework from the folder. 6. There are also executive function coaches or tutors who can help you sharpen the way students plan and carry out tasks.


Self-advocacy is a skill that enables students to understand their strengths and weaknesses, know what they need to succeed, and communicate that to other people. This skill will benefit them in academic and social settings alike. Here are a few ways students can practice these skills while still in high school:

  • Practice explaining their learning and thinking differences to others. Students should know their diagnosis and be able to explain it to others.

  • Students with an IEP or 504 plan should attend and participate in their IEP/504 meetings. Here they can discuss what accommodations are or are not working for them and their goals for the academic year. These meetings are also where students should share that they plan to go to a four-year college after high school.

  • Communicating with their teachers about the accommodations they receive, and build relationships with teachers so they are comfortable reaching out to them for help with the coursework.

Psychoeducational Evaluation

High school accommodation plans do not transfer to college. Students must initiate the process, and they must be able to articulate the impact of their disability in the academic setting. To receive accommodations in college, students should be prepared to submit a psychoeducational evaluation from their health care provider. Psychoeducational evaluation, sometimes referred to as a psych-ed eval or neuropsych, is an assessment of how a student learns. These tests have three components and must be performed by a qualified diagnosing professional:

  • Cognitive Ability (IQ)

  • Achievement (academic skills)

  • Information Processing

Qualified diagnosing professionals would include, but are not limited to licensed psychologists, psychiatrists, and neurologists, or other professionals with training and expertise in the diagnosis of mental disorders.

Colleges used to request that the psych-ed eval not be older that 3 years by the time the student begins classes at their institution. This is because some colleges only accept cognitive or IQ tests that measures on an adult scale, so the student must be 16 years or older if this is the case. While this is changing at some colleges, students need to research what each school on their college list requires for documentation so that they are prepared should they be admitted and decide to attend.

Next Up

Next week in part 2 of College Planning for Neurodiverse Students, I will cover applying for accommodations on ACT and SAT, the college search for neurodiverse students, to disclose or not disclose on the college application, and steps to securing accommodations in college.


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This blog was written Janice Royal, MA. She is the Founder and CEO of Royal College Consulting.

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